Tom Bawcock's Eve or Stargazzy Pie:
a folk legend told by Eldrbarry

(Sources: Google: Tom Bawcock, Stargazy Pie, Mousehole; The Mousehole Cat Taffy Thomas, Midwinter ) They say the devil stays away from Cornwall and the reason is Stargazy Pie.

Now, Cornwall is that rocky peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic from the Southwestern coast of England. The people there have eked out their livings mining tin and fishing – and the reason for Stargazy Pie is a little fishing town on the extreme tip of Cornwall named Mousehole for the narrow entrance to its harbor – which protects it from the rough seas and storms of the Atlantic. . Its fishermen have taken their boats out from there to fish especially for Pilchards (Sardines) for centuries. Locals call it “Mowzel”

The people lived there mainly on fish, along with beans and potatoes. They would bake Ling (Herring) and fry Launces (Sand Eels) They would poach Scad (Mackerel) and grill Hake (a white fish) and Fairmaids, they would make Morgy (dogfish, a kind of shark) Broth and Stargazy Pie with the Pilchards.

Well, one December many many years ago, there was a famine in Mowzel. Their dried fish and beans had been exhausted. The devil had stirred up fierce and relentless storms that kept the fishermen in their little harbor, and even many boats were sunk at their moorings. The women would not let them go out to face the winds and high waves. They did not want to be widows with fatherless children. Though Christmas was but days away, there was little good cheer.

Tom Bawcock was a well known local fisherman. A quiet caring man whose wife had died some years before who lived alone in a little cottage with his cat. Though they had no children of their own, Tom always had friendly words and especially loved the village children. Unlike the others, he would leave no widow if he went out to fish.

The storms kept battering the coast. Everyone was hungry, and huddled in their homes keeping warm. But early that morning, Tom slipped the mooring from his little boat and in the briefest moment of calm when the devil wasn't looking, slipped out through the Mousehole into the tumult of the sea. A few folk saw him going and called for him to come back, but their words were flung away by the wind. They last saw his frail boat with reefed sails on the crest of a gigantic wave against a sky painted by the devil, then it was gone from their sight.

The devil tried to have his fun with Tom Bawcock. At first he just played with him. Dwarfed by the waves, his boat would be lifted up, only the crash into another trough. Waves came from different directions, and the strong winds kept shifting too. Soon, It was all he could do hold fast to the tiller, his sheets often to the wind as he worked his way out to the fishing grounds. The devil played with him, tiny moments of calm followed by icy blasts of spray – but he couldn't catch him off guard. All day long Tom battled the seas and the tempest – and somehow he got his lines and nets into the sea. The devil got tired of playing and began hit him harder and harder – but he kept on fishing as he gripped the tiller.

In Mowzel, word had gotten around about Tom's putting out. Nervously, they watched for him. The dusk came early, the scudding clouds hid the moon and stars. The night sky might have been painted by the devil himself. Most feared this kind and friendly old man was lost to them.

“Tom's back!” came a sudden call. A mere glimpse far out yo srr. People wrapped themselves up and rushed to the quayside. Nothing could be seen. Was this a hoax of the devil? But staring into the fog and spray, there was just a brief glimpse of tattered sails. Then another, closer still. But how was Tom going to find his way through the mousehole? There was a call for Lanterns. The villagers rushed to put candles in their windows, and dozens of lanterns were carried to the quay and the rocks alongside the Mousehole. Though the devil tried his best, suddenly Tom's fishing boat slid down through the Mousehole on an incoming wave into the harbor. Quickly a line was cast to him, and his boat was tied up to the quay. His hand seemed frozen to the tiller, and he could barely stand up as they helped him out of the boat. There were shouts of joy and hugs and tears and praises to the Lord. He had made it home from the sea.

Then, another shout! “Hey, Tom's got fish!!” While fight that devil of a storm, he had never stopped fishing, somehow casting and drawing his nets. His hold was overflowing with fish – Ling and Launces, Scad and Hake and Fairmaids, Morgy and Pilchards – seven kinds of fish!

A procession of lanterns wove its way up to the village of Mowzel, along with baskets and baskets of fish. That Night – the night before Christmas Eve – there was great feasting. They baked Ling and Launces, poached the Scad in Morgy broth, grilled Hake and Fairmaids and baked an enormous Stargazy Pie with seven kinds of fishes and the heads of Pilchards looking at the sky from the crust.

What is a Stargazy pie, you ask? It is fish and eggs and potatoes baked into a pie, with the heads and tails of the whole Pilchards poking though a buttery pastry crust. It is a dish peculiar to Cornwall. Before you say “Yuk”, in fact the position of the fish allows the oil that is released during cooking to drain into the pie, adding a fuller flavor and ensuring the pie is moist. It may look strange – but in Cornwall, Stargazy Pie is to the Cornish as Lutefisk is to the Norse – a dish for the brave in the holidays!

When the devil saw that enormous pie with the heads of the fishes looking up at the stars being carried to the village's Inn to be eaten, he said “These people are so crazy, they will put anything in a pie – next it might be devils!” So he left Cornwall for good and went to Devon instead.

And since that night, the mousehole harbor is lit with lights. Cildren pass out cookies shaped like fishes. The whole village of Mowzel gathers on Tom Bawcocks Eve – the eve before Christmas Eve on the Quay with their lanterns lit and held high and they march up to the Ship's Pub, singing songs about Tom Bawcock and his catch of seven kinds of fishes, and then . . . they feast on Stargazy Pie!

A merrier place you may believe Was Mousehole on Tom Bawcock's eve
To be there then who wouldn't wish To sup on seven sorts of fish
When murgy broth had cleared the path Come lances for a fry
And then us had a bit o' scad And starry gazey pie
Next comed fair maids, bra' thrusty jades As made our oozles dry
And ling and hake, enough to make A running shark to sigh
As each we'd clunk as health were drunk In bumpers brimming high
And when up came Tom Bawcock's name We praised him to the sky.

Notes on my version of the tale.
This folk tale has a simple outline. I took the tradition of the devil avoiding Cornwall because of the pie and used it as a beginning and ending frame for the story. And putting the devil into the narrative as bringing the storms, toying then, battling with, Tom's sailing skills. I also picked up on the lanterns assembled to guide Tom safely into the harbor. Though mentioned in the first line, the description of the pie comes at the end – a Cornish Christmas tradition akin to the Norwegians and their Lutefisk. One of the challenges in learning this story are the Cornish names of the seven fishes – explained in the beginning – served up in the feast at the end. There is a reason the fish head stick out of the pie. The oil from the fish cooks out into the pie adding to the flavor!

Sources on Tom Bawcock and Stargazy Pie: I told this story at a Holiday Story Swap and Dessert Potluck in 2019. Instead of a pie made with seven kinds of fish to accompany my Story of Tom Bawcock's Eve, I made a pie with seven kinds of apples: Fuji, Honey Chrisp, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Opal. And I used sets of fish and star cookie cutters to make a crust with seven fishes and seven stars. Since seven apples yield more apples than needed for a single pie, I made a second using cranberries and blueberries for that layer. It was my first apple pie!

Here is the recipe I used from the internet


You are viewing: http://www.eldrbarry.net/rabb/folk/bawcock.htm -- © 2021 Barry McWilliams
Follow These Links to:
ELDRBARRY'S HOME PAGEJOY OF STORYLISTENINGMORE ABOUT ELDRBARRY

Thanks for visiting! Please E-mail me at: eldrbarry@eldrbarry.net